Saint Jude: Diary of a Soul Fiend

Amongst the riches habitually dished out by Classic Rock magazine, this CD giveaway is right up there – right up there, that is, with new albums by such luminaries as Joe Perry and Cheap Trick. Saint Jude are a supremely soulful, hard rockin’ six piece from London and, having lived with this special edition of their debut album for a couple of weeks, I have to say that they are one of the most exciting new British bands I have heard for a long time.

Steeped in rock folklore, with shades of the Stones, Free and the Jimi Hendrix Experience frequently wafting over like ghosts on the wind, the band weave a rich sonic tapestry, propelled by the energetic and accomplished rhythm section of Lee Cook (drums) and Scott Wiber (bass), and sprinkled with the gold dust of the sparkling talents of guitarists Marcus Bonfanti and Ivor Sims, and keyboard ace Eliot Mortimer. And, to cap it all, there is the coup de grâce, the devastating WMD that is frontwoman Lynne Jackaman’s voice. I first heard this remarkable vocalist dueting with Cormac Neeson on my favourite track from the new album from The Answer, ‘Nowhere Freeway’, and, listening to her sing a range of diverse material over the course of a long player, I am constantly astonished by the range of, and character in, her voice, and the maturity of her performances. Some of the extraterrestrial notes she hits towards the end of the live version of sultry ballad ‘Down and Out’ that is appended to the CR edition of the album, are nothing short of spine-tingling. Just as impressive, though, is her command of dynamics; like Steve Perry, Ronnie James Dio, and all the greats, she knows when to hold back, and when to belt it, and is equally compelling on affecting ballads like ‘Down this Road’ and rootsy stompers like ‘Soul on Fire’ and ‘Little Queen’.

Indeed, ‘maturity’ could well be the key word in summing up everything that is impressive about the band as a whole. It’s lovely to hear a large rock ensemble, playing coherently as a unit with such a full sound (often augmented by brass and percussion), and never sounding cluttered or overblown. Mortimer’s keyboards, whether he elects for the Hammond or some very cool and funky electric piano, always add depth and texture to the music – and, especially when he goes to town on the honky tonk, I can’t help but be reminded of another famously big and formidable unit, the mighty Lynyrd Skynyrd. There are also plenty of delicious and tasteful guitar breaks to get your teeth into; I’d like to make special mention of the elegant, Clapton-esque solo at the end of ‘Angel’ as a personal highlight. And bass player Wiber is a star throughout – doesn’t feel a need to be overly flashy or show off, but consistently drives the music forward with some very tidy, astute performances. Great job all round!

I do hope I’ll be able to catch the band on one of their UK dates in December, and I strongly urge British rock fans to do the same, and make sure you add this stunning debut album to your collection – you won’t regret it. Those of us who like it old school really have been spoilt rotten this year.

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